Cleveland Sports Franchises: Cleveland Browns
April 13, 2011 Leave a comment
League Championships: 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949 (AAFC); 1950, 1954, 1955, 1964 (NFL: pre-Super Bowl)
Retired Numbers: #14 Otto Graham, #32 Jim Brown, #45 Ernie Davis, #46 Don Fleming, #76 Lou Groza
Rivals: Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens
The Cleveland Browns were founded in 1946 as a charter member of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC). Former Ohio State head coach Paul Brown, the namesake of the franchise, was named vice president, general manager, and head coach. Brown had an extensive recruiting pipeline into the Buckeyes program, as well as the US Navy, for whom he had coached a base team during World War II. He utilized these connections to assemble a team that was virtually unmatched by other programs at the time, boasting stars such as quarterback Otto Graham, kicker/OT Lou Groza, wide receivers Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie, and more. With this squad, the Browns dominated the AAFC, winning all four of its championships. This included the 1948 season, in which they became the first unbeaten and untied team in professional football history. Cleveland’s undefeated streak (including two ties) reached 29 games, and included 18 straight wins and the 1947 and 1948 AAFC championship games.
The AAFC dissolved after the 1949 season, and the NFL agreed to take in three of the league’s teams for the 1950 season: the San Francisco 49ers, the Baltimore Colts, and the Browns. The team picked up right where they left off, winning over the Rams (formerly the NFL representatives in Cleveland) in the NFL Championship game in 1950. They would advance to the championship game again for the next three seasons, but lost each time. The team returned to championship status again in 1954, when they won the NFL title in 1954 and 1955.
The team was purchased in 1961 by Art Modell. Modell had a long-standing conflict with head coach Brown, and fired him after a 7-6-1 season in 1962, replacing him with longtime assistant Blanton Collier. In Collier’s first season, the team went 10-4 and finished a game out of the conference title. They also won their seventh title in 1964, ousting the Baltimore Colts. This would be the last championship that the franchise has seen.
The next few decades would see mediocrity, disaster, and most notably, exciting play that led to the nickname of the 1979 “Kardiac Kids,” a squad which won most games by less than a touchdown. Behind a number of Pro-Bowlers in the 1980’s, including Doug Dieken, Tom DeLeone, and Loe Lamielleure, the Browns made the playoffs in 1980, 82, 1985, 86, 87,88, and 89. The mid 1980’s also set off the historic rivalry with the Broncos, as Denver frequently foiled Cleveland’s plans in the AFC title game during the decade.
Modell announced in November 1995 that he had signed a deal to relocate the Browns to Baltimore in 1996. Fans reacted angrily to the news. Over 100 lawsuits were filed by the fans, the city of Cleveland, and a host of others. Virtually all of the team’s sponsors immediately pulled their support, leaving Municipal Stadium devoid of advertising during the team’s final weeks. The stadium itself was torn apart by angry fans, with rows of empty seats torn up and thrown on the field. Several fans set fires in the stands, and assaulted police officers and security officials who tried to quell the growing fires.
After several talks between the NFL, the Browns, and officials of Cleveland and Baltimore, Cleveland accepted a legal settlement that would keep the Browns’ legacy in the city. In February 1996, the NFL announced that the Browns would be “deactivated” for three years, and that a new stadium would be built for a new Browns’ team, as either an expansion team or a team moved from another city, that would being play in 1999. After that time had elapsed, the roster was restocked via an expansion draft before resuming play in the 1999 season. There was a new team, but the Browns’ name, colors, history, records, awards, and archives would remain intact.
The Browns’ return to the NFL was not as successful as all had hoped, as the 1999 season began with a 43-0 loss to the Steelers at the brand new stadium in Cleveland. After two subpar seasons, the team hired Miami coach Butch Davis, who led the team to more competitive early 2000’s before falling into oblivion in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, after which he resigned. At this time, new head coach Romeo Crennel and new GM Phil Savage were at the helm in Cleveland until 2008, which were times of high expectations seen falling just short of playoff berths due to injuries, inconsistent play, and losing tiebreakers for playoff appearances. Savage and Crennel were subsequently fired after a 2008 season that ended with six straight losses, including two consecutive shutouts.
In January 2009, the Browns hired former Jets coach Eric Mangini, and at the close of the season, they also brought on former Packers and Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren as team President and head of operations. The new Browns leadership focused on bringing a new face to the franchise, and drafted Colt McCoy, and acquired Jake Delhomme, Peyton Hillis, and backup Seneca Wallace to the franchise. Despite heading into the 2010 season with an overall sense of optimism, the Brown started off poorly, and set an NFL record when they lost their first three games of the season after leading in the fourth quarter. After losing four games in a row to end the season, Holgrem and the Browns decided to fire Mangini, and brought on Rams’ offensive coordinator Pat Schurmur for the upcoming season. Stay tuned tomorrow as we break down what is on the horizon for Browns’ football!